Tuesday, October 16, 2018

Houston 42, East Carolina 20

This game was not as close as the score (or even the stats) indicate; the Coogs led 42-6 until there were about 5 minutes left in the fourth quarter, when the Pirates cored a couple of window-dressing touchodwns against UH's second stringers.

The Good: The UH defense had an excellent outing, forcing four turnovers and holding the Pirates to six points (and two! rushing yards) until late in the game. The defense recorded 12 tackles for loss, the most in a single game since 2005. Ed Oliver finally got through the double- and triple-teams that have been drawn up against him all season to notch his first two sacks of the season, the first of which resulted in a turnover and UH touchdown. Meanwhile, UH quarterback D'Eriq King threw for 209 yards and two touchdowns and had no interceptions. He rushed for a score as well.

The Bad: The Cougars played sloppy football at times, with poor tackling, dropped passes, three sacks surrendered, and way too many penalties (12 for 115 yards). One penalty negated what would have been a fourth interception for the Coogs. Another penalty killed a UH drive in the 3rd quarter. 

The Ugly: While this isn't an excuse for all the Cougars' penalties - even Major Applewhite is concerned about them - the officiating for this game was nevertheless very poor. A targeting penalty that resulted in the ejection of UH safety Gleson Sprewell in the second half was truly ticky-tack. And this bizarre booth reversal of a spot (that benefitted ECU) was simply incompetent.

What It Means: Halfway through the season, the Cougars are 5-1 overall, 2-0 in conference and the only undefeated team in the American's western division. 

Next up for the Cougars is a visit to Annapolis, Maryland to face Navy. 

Tuesday, October 09, 2018

A good 20 hours for Houston sports fans

Over the course of about 20 hours between this past Sunday night and this past Monday afternoon, the Texans eked out their second overtime win in a row against the Dallas Cowboys, and the Astros swept the Cleveland Indians to advance to the American League Championship Series. That was, needless to say, a very happy 20 hours for Houston sports fans.

Anybody who knows me knows how much I hate the Dallas Cowboys. The Texans aren't a particularly good team - in fact, they're quite awful this season - but as long as they beat the Cowboys, and shut up their obnoxious "DEM BOYZ! AMERICA'S TEAM! HOUSTON SUCKS! WOOOO!" fanbase, it's all good. The Texans might not win another game this year, but they beat the evil Cowboys so 2018 is already a success in my book.

The Astros have a tough ALCS series ahead of them against the Boston Red Sox, who defeated the Yankees (speaking of teams I hate) earlier this evening to advance. The Red Sox had the best regular season record in baseball this season, and it's going to take the Astros everything they have to get past them and win back-to-back pennants. But they took care of business against Cleveland in convincing fashion to get back to the ALCS, and that's worth celebrating.

It's tough being a Houston sports fan, which makes it all the better when we experience these bursts of success.

(As an added bonus, on Monday night Corinne's team - the New Orleans Saints - beat the Redskins as Saints QB Drew Brees became the NFL's all-time passing leader. So it's been pretty happy in our apartment.)

The Bridge of Sighs

The Bridge of Sighs was built between 1600 and 1603 and crosses a side canal between the Doge's Palace and the prison in Venice. Its name reportedly comes from the fact that convicts would sigh as they caught their last glimpse of Venice before being confined to their cells.

I learned about it as an architecture student - it was an example of the Baroque architectural style as well as the ornateness for which the Venetians were known - and so I always wanted to see it for myself. This past July, I finally got to do so.

I even got to walk across it, which is possible if you take a tour of the Doge's Palace (and, if you're in Venice for any time at all, you should).

It's not particularly spectacular. It's only about 35 feet in length, which really doesn't compare to Venice's famous Grand Canal bridges, such as the Rialto Bridge or Calatrava's Ponte della Costituzione. But the Bridge of Sighs is nevertheless pretty, with its while limestone and Renaissance decoration.

There's also just something satisfying about finally being able to see in person something that you learned about many years ago. Even if the item in question isn't all that spectacular - quite frankly, the rooms and the artworks within the Doge's Palace are much more breathtaking than the Bridge of Sighs - it's still nice to be able to lay your own eyes upon something like the Bridge of Sighs and evaluate and experience it for yourself, rather than let a picture (or an architecture professor) do it for you.

Which is why everybody needs to travel more!

A view of the bridge from inside one of the rooms in the Doge's Palace
A view of Venice from one of the Bridge's windows
A closer view from one of the Bridge's windows

Houston 41, Tulsa 26

The Cougars started out slow against a Tulsa team that came ready to play and quickly fell behind, 10-0, in the first quarter. The Coogs struggled back to take the lead at halftime, only to see Tulsa score 13 unanswered points in the second half. Houston managed a fourth-quarter rally to win the game; however, it was a very ugly win, so let's start there.

The Ugly: The Cougars looked lethargic and played error-ridden football for much of the game. They turned the ball over three times, dropped numerous catchable passes (as well what would have been sure interceptions), committed 8 penalties and missed several tackle. The defense could not get off the field, as the Cougars allowed the Golden Hurricane to convert on 8 of 23 third downs and 2 of 4 fourth downs. The defense also surrendered a whopping 312 rushing yards (and 426 total yards) to Tulsa. The UH offense, meanwhile, sputtered for much of the game; of their first ten drives, seven ended either in punts or turnovers (interceptions, fumbles, or turnovers on downs). Quite simply, the Cougars were outplayed for much of this game.

The Bad: The third quarter was a microcosm of the Cougars’ night. They held the ball for only 2:58 (Tulsa had the ball for 12:02), ran only 5 plays (Tulsa ran 28), had 7 yards of offense (Tulsa had 174), and scored no points (Tulsa scored 10). Another Tulsa touchdown would have surely sealed the game for them.

The Good: The Coogs finally came to life in the fourth quarter. D'Eriq King had a 61-yard touchdown run on a well-executed play to bring the Coogs back within two. Tulsa was forced to punt on the ensuing position, and the Cougars scored a field goal on their next position to retake the lead. Then, Tulsa melted down; their next two possessions ended in turnovers on their side of the field and led to easy UH touchdowns. These quick 24 points put Tulsa away for good; Ryan Monceaux describes the sequence of events and notes that at least some of Houston's late-game heroics were due to Tulsa's errors:
Why did Tulsa go from the ground and pound offense that dominated the 3Q into a drop back team with a first-time starter in the 4th? That’s just poor play-calling and abandoning your game plan. But credit the Cougar defense for taking advantage of the opportunities presented to them: two false starts, a dinged-up running back, a forced fumble, and an INT. And the UH offense scored 24 points on just 20 plays. The three touchdown drives in the quarter totaled just 67 seconds. For 15 minutes, we finally saw what this team is capable of doing.
What It Means: I've always said that an ugly win is better than a pretty loss, and the only thing that matters is that the Cougars are 4-1 overall, are 1-0 in their division, and got revenge for their most humiliating loss last season. But that can't keep playing down to the level of their opponent and expect to escape with wins.

The Cougars now go on a two-game road trip to face East Carolina (on October 13) and Navy (on October 20). Both teams are mediocre, with 2-3 records, and the Cougars should be favorites to win both. However, as we've seen from this team so far this season, nothing is a given.

ESPN's recap of the game is here.

Wednesday, September 26, 2018

The stubby, short-lived 747SP

As I've been melancholically following the gradual demise of the Boeing 747 (see here and here and here), I've been meaning to write about an fascinating variant of the original Jumbo Jet: the 747SP. The SP (for "Special Performance") was a shorter, longer-range version of the original 747; the story behind it is extremely interesting.
The 747SP is a brief, and largely forgotten page in the 747's proud history.  Not many books or articles have been written about this fascinating aircraft, largely because it never realized the commercial success of its larger siblings.  This stubby 747 model was by many measures a commercial failure, with Boeing only managing to sell 45 during the aircraft's eight year production run from 1976 to 1982, 1987.  The line did reopen again briefly in 1987 so that Boeing could produce one final aircraft.
Yet despite its lackluster sales the aircraft filled a very important niche market for Boeing at the time and pioneered the concept of ultra long range flights, paving the way for the 400 series that followed.  The SP's exceptional performance and long range opened up new routes, making nonstop flights between city pairs like Sydney-Los Angeles, Johannesburg-London and New York-Tokyo a practical reality for the first time. The 747SP over the course of its airline career set many performance benchmarks for its class including the fastest round the world flight from pole to pole.  Unfortunately the airplane never truly found widespread acceptance in the market outside of its ultra long range niche.  So just how did this curious aircraft come to be and what were the market factors that led Boeing to design this unusual aircraft in the first place?
The first Boeing 747 entered service in 1970; however, within a couple of years McDonnell Douglas and Lockheed were offering wide-body aircraft of their own - the DC-10 and L-1011, respectively - and Boeing realized it was at a competitive disadvantage.
Meanwhile in Seattle Boeing had been closely following the development of the DC-10 and L-1011 and soon realized that the new tri-jets exposed a large hole in the company's product line between the aging 169 seat 707-300 and the much larger 380 seat 747-200B.  Boeing had no effective product in the long range, mid capacity segment of the market. The DC-10 and L-1011 had carved out a niche that was costing Boeing potential customers.  Not only were new customers flocking to order the new tri-jets but existing 747 operators were placing orders as well.  The initial models of both the L-1011 and DC-10 didn't have intercontinental reach but both manufactures were hard at work developing long range derivatives which would hit the market in a few short years. 
Since the late 1960's Boeing had been studying various concepts involving shortened and modified two and three engine 747 designs to match the capacity requirements of the DC-10 and L-1011 proposals.  The major problem with any four engine 747 derivative was overcoming the 33% fuel burn deficit a four engine airplane would have when compared to a three engine jet.  Very simply the more engines an aircraft has the heavier the airplane is, the more fuel it burns and correspondingly the more costly it is for an airline to fly and maintain.
However, a two- or three-engined version of the 747 would have required so much redesign that it would have been, essentially, a completely different aircraft.
No one in Everett was interested in building an all new aircraft.  That would simply take too much time and cost too much money to develop and would place Boeing well behind Lockheed and McDonnell-Douglas in the market. Boeing didn't have six or seven years to launch a competitive answer they need something that could be built cheaply and be brought to market quickly.  Eventually led by Joe Sutter, the father of the 747, it was agreed that the best course of action was to shorten the existing 747 fuselage and retain the aircraft's existing wing and four engine arrangement.  Sutter reasoned that while the shortened 747 might not be able to match the DC-10 or L-1011's fuel burn or operating costs it would retain commonality with existing 747's which would reduce manufacturing and production costs for the company.  The parts and systems commonality with existing 747's would also save current 747 operators considerable money in training and maintenance expenses and this just might be enough to sway them from purchasing the DC-10 or L-1011.
With a concept in place Boeing set about optimizing and tweaking the design of the 747SB or "Short Body" as it was then called.  The existing 747 fuselage was shortened by 48 feet to accommodate around 280 passengers in a two class arrangement which closely matched the competing DC-10 and L-1011's capacity and placed it 100 seats under the existing 747-200B. The new aircraft retained the standard 747 wing, in combination with a 2 ft. taller tail and 10 ft. longer horizontal stabilizer span.  The shortened aircraft, with its reduced structure and components enabled Boeing to lighten the airplane's gross weight by 125,000 lbs when compared to the standard 747 air frame.   
A lighter airplane led to a 20% reduction in fuel burn, which in combination with the 747's speed and the projected 4,000-6,000 foot higher cruise altitude gave it the exceptional capability to fly 270 passengers and cargo almost 7,000 miles!  A distance well beyond the reach of the DC-10 or L-1011.  The aircraft's performance if it penciled out would give it the lowest seat mile costs of any aircraft of its size class, besting both its tri-jet competitors.
Despite the aircraft's promise on paper the Boeing board was not entirely convinced of its commercial potential, giving the project only incremental approval in June, 1973.  Around that same time Pan Am issued a firm requirement for an aircraft to deploy on long range routes with demand too thin to support a full size 747.  Both Lockheed and McDonnell-Douglas pitched long range derivatives of the DC-10 and L-1011. 
To highlight the new 747's performance advantage over the competition Boeing re-designated the aircraft as the 747SP for Special Performance.  Two months later in August of 1973 the Boeing board formally approved the aircraft launch, believing that a launch order from Pan Am was inevitable.  The company took a substantial risk by green lighting the SP before receiving a minimum order commitment, but by this time most inside the company had been won over by the SP's impressive economics.  Furthermore Joe Sutter had thrown his full support behind the project and that was enough to convince most skeptics that the aircraft would be embraced by airline customers around the world. 
The SP entered service with Pan Am three years later, in April of 1976. Pan Am would eventually purchase 10 of the aircraft. The second launch customer, South African Airways, would purchase 6. The 747SP's range was especially useful for SAA because other African nations would not grant airspace to the Apartheid government's flag carrier, meaning that the airline was forced to fly longer, more circuitous routes around the continent (SAA 747SPs even briefly served Houston, before anti-Apartheid legislation prevented South African Airways from flying to the United States at all).

Pan Am and SAA were both pleased with the aircraft, and Boeing hoped to sell 200 of them. However, in spite of the SP's impressive range and performance, Boeing never made it past the model's break-even point of 45 aircraft. It turned out the the 747SP was simply too much of a "niche" aircraft; most carriers just didn't have a network full of long-range routes suited to the 747SP's specifications and were looking for wide-body aircraft with more flexibility.
Despite all of the data and statistics that validated the superiority of Boeing's 747SP the DC-10  proved a tough competitor to best.  Unlike the 747SP which had been specifically designed and optimized for very long range routes with limited demand, the DC-10 platform had been designed from the outset with flexibility in mind.  McDonnell-Douglas was able to optimize the aircraft to a variety of routes and mission requirements. The short range 10 series was an ideal aircraft for U.S. domestic trunk routes for airlines like United and American.  While the longer range 30 series had the endurance to fly trans-oceanic routes as well as intercontinental flights between Africa, Asia and Europe.  In all McDonnell-Douglas produced 446 aircraft across 9 different variants of the DC-10 through out its 18 year production run from 1971 to 1989.
It didn't help that the 747SP's $28 million price tag was a full $1.5 million more than that of the DC-10. The advent of the twin-engined Airbus A300, as well as the ETOPS program allowing twin-engined aircraft to fly longer distances over water, further put the 747SP at a disadvantage, and Boeing pulled the plug on the program in the early 1980s.

The 747SP's production might have been short-lived, but was it a failure?
It is easy to say given the 747SP's less than stellar sales that it was a failure, after all both McDonnell-Douglas and Lockheed sold far more trj-jets.  But from a cost perspective the derivative aircraft was relatively cheap for Boeing to design and build and it ended up just about breaking even for the company. The SP also allowed Boeing to retain key 747 customers and thwarted a number of potential sales of the DC-10 and L-1011.  
For the small niche market that the aircraft was designed and built for there was no equal. You either had to buy a 747SP or lose high yield customers to your competitor who could get there faster and nonstop. Ultimately neither the DC-10 or L-1011 came close to matching the 747SP's incredible top end range and payload uplift.
The 747SP has long since been removed from commercial service. There are still, however, ten of these unique aircraft currently in active service. Most are used as VIP transports, but Pratt and Whitney Canada uses two of them as flying testbeds and one of them is used by NASA as the flying observatory SOFIA. The 747SP also remains popular among aviation enthusiasts. There is an entire website and a Facebook page devoted to the airplane.

It's also worth noting that the 747SP has a better survival record than one of its competitors, the Lockheed L-1011. 250 of the iconic three-engined aircraft were built, but only two are currently airworthy. Dozens of DC-10s (and its successor MD-11s), meanwhile, are still in active service as freighters with companies such as UPS and FedEx.

In the passenger realm, however, these aircraft have long since been superseded by twin-engined aircraft such as the Boeing 777 and 787 or the Airbus A330 and A350. Case in point: while the 747SP's 7,000-mile range was impressive for its time and made the concept of ultra-long-haul routes viable, Singapore Airlines just took delivery of its first Airbus A350-900ULR. This airplane has a range of about 11,000 miles and which will be put to use on a 9,500-mile, 19-hour flight between Singapore and New York-Newark.

Monday, September 24, 2018

Houston 70, Texas Southern 14

The "Battle of Scott Street" went about as expected, considering that Texas Southern is an FCS program (and a pretty bad one, at that). The Cougars scored touchdowns on their first six possessions, and ended the game with 671 yards of total offense.

The Good: The Cougars made good use of this glorified scrimmage to get their backups some experience. Freshman quarterback Clayton Tune played the entire second half and completed 12 of 23 passes for 183 yards and two touchdowns. Freshman running back Kelan Walker carried 9 times for 105 yards and a score. 

Also, the Spirit of Houston teamed up with the Ocean of Soul at halftime:

The Bad: TDECU Stadium suffered a partial power outage during the third quarter that delayed the game for about 20 minutes. I'm not sure what the problem was - it was unlikely to be weather-related, because the storms that made for a soggy tailgating experience had moved out by the time the game started - but I certainly hope that a relatively new facility such as TDECU isn't already having its own electrical issues.

The Ugly: I realize it was late in the game and against second- and third-string players, but TSU matched the longest touchdown given up in UH history with a 95-yard bomb from Jay Christophe to Bobby Hartzog, Jr. The UH secondary continues to have problems, even against FCS opponents. 

What It Means: Not much, really; as I said, this was a glorified scrimmage, played as part of an agreement with TSU for letting UH's basketball team play in their arena while the Fertitta Center is under construction.

Houston gets next Saturday off before opening conference play with a Thursday night game against Tulsa. Ryan Monceaux takes stock of the Cougars as they complete their out-of-conference slate.

Thursday, September 20, 2018

In praise of UNT's trick punt return

North Texas scored on a punt return against Arkansas last weekend because the Razorback players (wrongly) assumed that the North Texas punt returner, Keegan Brewer, had signaled for a fair catch and also because the Razorback players (wrongly) assumed that the play was over, even though the referees never blew their whistles. By now most people have seen it, but just in case you missed it:

I like this for three reasons:
  1. I am a North Texas fan. (Hence the name of this blog.)
  2. I am *not* an Arkansas fan. (This goes back to my childhood, when the Razorbacks were one of Houston's biggest Southwest Conference foes.)
  3. I think this play is absolutely ingenious, and something that makes college football so much fun to watch.
I get that some people don't like it. I've seen comments on Facebook and elsewhere calling it a cheap trick, something that only pop warner teams would do. I disagree. Trick plays are a part of football, and there was nothing cheap about this one. It was meticulously planned. It was also exceedingly dangerous, as Will Leitch points out:
There is no player in all of organized sports more defenseless than a punt returner who is looking up at the sky, waiting to catch the ball, while 11 men bear down on him at full speed. It is the equivalent of walking across the Autobahn blindfolded with your ankles tied together. Even if you think football is “too soft” like some people, you can’t argue against the fair catch rule. Players would break their necks every week without it.
So, then, it seems particularly odd, and maybe a little disturbing, at this particular moment in football history, that a coach would exploit a rule meant to keep players safe in order to benefit his team, no? What North Texas’s special teams coordinator Marty Biagi asked Brewer to do, essentially, was stand there and wait to be destroyed … and, fingers crossed, he wouldn’t be! Even Biagi understood what he was requiring of Brewer: “You can’t just put that in on a Wednesday and then go, ‘Hey! Trust me!’” he said. 
It is to the credit of Biagi and Brewer, as well as the rest of their North Texas brethren, that the play was so well constructed and well executed that Brewer wasn’t obliterated right there on the Fayetteville grass. But the very fact that Brewer, who, I feel obliged to point out, is a college sophomore who isn’t even getting paid for any of this, was asked to stand there helpless and naked and this close to having his head ripped off for our amusement, and surely felt that saying no was never an option to him … that’s a little weird to celebrate, right? Sure, it’s funny and clever that North Texas got away with something. But what if they hadn’t? What if an Arkansas player realized that Brewer hadn’t called for a fair catch and just flat laid him out? How funny and clever is it then? 
Leitch, who concedes that this was "the coolest football play I have seen in a long time," suggests that the North Texas coaching staff was gaming a shift in attitudes about player safety:
But it is probably also worth considering that Brewer wasn’t laid flat, wasn’t absolutely destroyed by a rampaging tackler. And that is, in part, because of how football has changed over the last decade, making remorseless hits of defenseless players much, much less common than they used to be. There have been rule changes, but those changes have also cascaded through the way the game is played — they have made players more safety-conscious, as weird as that is to say about football, more deferential to opponents in positions of physical vulnerability. Which is exactly why the play design was so brilliant. What Biagi recognized was that, even if Brewer really was a sitting duck, the defender almost certainly wasn’t just going to go all-out and destroy him, because defenders are discouraged from those sort of big hits, penalized for violent-looking hits even if they are in fact legal, because of the increasing focus on the brutality of the sport. When defenders see opponents standing like sitting ducks, they don’t drool anymore, they ease up, suspicious, looking at the guy with the ball like a kid with a cookie that’s a little too available … a kid who smells a trap. Ten years ago, Brewer might have gotten leveled anyway, fair catch signal or not, out of defensive instinct. Now, the instinct is in the other direction. Now everybody plays it a little bit safer, just in case.
Now that special teams coaches from around the country are aware of this trick, it's probably not going to be replicated (by North Texas or anyone else) very often. Credit goes to North Texas: they probably only had one opportunity - ever - to make it work, and they pulled it off.

The Mean Green won the game, 44-17 - its first win over an SEC opponent in four decades - and are now 3-0 on the season.

Wednesday, September 19, 2018

Houston 49, Texas Tech 63

The Cougars went to Lubbock and got into an offensive shootout with Texas Tech: a total of 112 points and 1,339 yards of offense were generated. Unfortunately, it was the Red Raiders that outlasted the Coogs, 63-49, to hand them their first loss of the season.

The Good: Houston's offense played well. D 'Eriq King had an excellent game, completing 30 of 51 passes for 431 yards, five touchdowns and no interceptions. He also rushed for 47 yards and another touchdown. Marquez Stevenson led all receivers with 9 catches for 177 yards and two touchdowns, and the Cougars rolled up 635 yards of total offense. Normally, 49 points should be good enough for a team to win; however...

The Bad: Houston's pass defense was beyond atrocious. They were dominated by true freshman QB Alan Bowman, who completed 43 of 59 passes for 605 yards, five touchdowns and no interceptions. When the Red Raiders weren't scorching the Coogs through the air, they were handing off to running back Ta'Zhawn Henry, who had 11 rushing yards for four touchdowns.

It didn't help that senior safety Garrett Davis was injured early in the game, but there's no excuse for the missed tackles, breakdowns in coverage, and poor overall strategy that plagued UH's defense all afternoon long. Lack of depth was a factor; the defense was clearly gassed by Texas Tech's offensive pace and wide-open air assault. But the schemes of defensive coordinator Mark D'Onofrio was a factor as well.

The Ugly: As good as the UH offense was, it could have been better. Receivers dropped some passes they should have caught. And, while I can probably forgive the Coogs for going for it on 4th and 5 at the Texas Tech 8 instead of kicking a field goal because they were down by 14 points, why would they call consecutive running plays up the middle (which resulted in a three-and-out) when they're still down by 14 points? The Cougars were also penalized 9 times for 68 yards, including a rather stupid personal foul on Deontay Anderson that essentially gifted Tech a touchdown.

But here's what's ugliest of all: In spite of having one of the best players in the country, the UH defense gave up 605 yards (the most passing yards by an FBS team so far this season) and 5 touchdowns to a true freshman playing his second game, and is currently ranked #128 (out of 129 FBS programs) in passing yards allowed and #127 in total defense. This suggests that there is a fundamental problem with the Houston Cougar defense.

What It Means: The first loss of the season is always tough, especially since a win would have been the Coogs' second in a row against a Power 5 school (and a former SWC rival, at that), and would probably have propelled the Coogs into the Top 25.

That being said, the Cougars weren't going undefeated this year, and this one was a likely "L" when the schedule came out. The result does not affect the Coogs' chances at a division or conference title, and they get two weeks to sort things out (a rent-a-win game against TSU next Saturday, and an off week the following Saturday) before they begin conference play.

Ryan Monceaux's take is here. ESPN's recap is here.

Combat Kroger goes sort-of-upscale

The gritty, no-frills grocery store well-known to UH students and East Enders alike is getting a facelift:
Mid-Con Contractors filed a building permit last week to remodel the store at 4000 Polk at Cullen.
The planned upgrade comes amid an ongoing transition of this area east of downtown that has seen hundreds of new townhouse developments, along with new coffee shops, breweries and bars.

The renovations include adding new shelving and refrigerator cases, new floors, new doors, remodeled bathrooms, six self-checkout lanes and "increasing selection in produce, meat and deli and bakery departments." I don't think that means an actual butcher's counter - that's the one thing the store really needs - but there's probably no room for it within the existing footprint.*

One thing I did like about that store was the lack of self-service lanes. I avoid them like the plague because they're slow and awkward to use, they're not customer-friendly (unless you enjoy a computerized voice screaming "UNEXPECTED ITEM IN THE BAGGING AREA" at you), and managers at other Kroger stores (Buffalo Speedway, I'm looking at you) seem to use them as an excuse not to staff the regular lanes. So I'm kind of sad to see that those are being added.

I no longer shop at Combat Kroger on a regular basis, since I no longer live on that side of town, but I'm glad it's finally getting some attention. People deserve a decent shopping experience and food selection regardless of their means. I can only hope that these upgrades are not accompanied by higher prices, or that this renovation, while being a sign that the neighborhood is changing, does not portend mass-scale gentrification that is going to result in the wholesale displacement of the working-class families that live in the surrounding neighborhoods.

* A commenter on the Chronicle article claims that the store will be expanded when the adjacent Dollar General's lease is up in 2020. We'll see. For a trip down memory lane, check out this memo I wrote to a Combat Kroger manager way back in 2007. 

Wednesday, September 12, 2018

Ten years since Ike

Eric Berger remembers:
Anniversary Awareness: Ten years ago today we were watching the approach of Hurricane Ike, whose winds and storm surge pushed into Galveston on Friday, Sept. 12. I recall this time vividly, as I tried to grab a few hours of sleep in a darkened room in the Houston Chronicle‘s former downtown newsroom. Next door, at the Lancaster Hotel, a window blew out in my family’s room. I was powerless to help. Similar dramas played out across the region as the storm made a final landfall at 2:10am CT on Saturday morning. At the time, Ike ranked as the second costliest hurricane in U.S. history, behind only Katrina. It has since been bumped down to sixth, supplanted by Harvey, Maria, Sandy, and Irma. Unfortunately, the Houston region has yet to heed the lessons of Ike and enact any kind of surge barrier that would protect communities along Galveston Bay, expensive infrastructure along the Houston Ship Channel, or Galveston Island. The region remains highly vulnerable to a major storm surge event. On a personal note, a lot of the lessons I learned while covering Ike have made this site what it is today.
Our region's vulnerability is definitely something to always keep in mind, especially as we continue to clean up from Harvey and watch Florence bear down on the Carolinas.

Here are my blog entries during and after Ike, in sequence: 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 We were fortunate in that we escaped major damage, but two weeks without power was miserable.